Tag Archives: Rupert Goold

“Ink” at the Almeida Theatre

James Graham has made a strong reputation for himself with plays about politics. While similarly concerned with power, his new work has a broader subject matter and relates the genesis and meteoric rise of The Sun newspaper.

Graham’s nose for a good story is as fine-tuned as any journalist’s. The purchase of an ailing broadsheet by Australian outsider Rupert Murdoch, and the hiring of neglected hack Larry Lamb to run it, take on a mythic quality. These are great roles for strong actors: Bertie Carvel is the ruthless, on-the-up tycoon, while Richard Coyle is the editor whose doubts and determination both mount as he chases sales figures.

The triangle between Murdoch, Lamb and the latter’s former mentor and now rival on The Daily Mirror, Hugh Cudlipp, might have been developed further. There’s an excellent performance from David Schofield as the crusading lefty whose paper aims to improve its readers. An idealistic fourth estate is where politics comes to the fore in Ink and, surprisingly, the play’s very few ponderous moments come from this elision.

Director Rupert Goold stages the recruitment of staff at the new paper with a cabaret feel: jolly, anti-establishment, with 1960s cool. And Goold handles the play’s darker territory just as well, with a kidnapping and the launch of The Sun’s infamous topless models: a scenario that leads to strong performances from Sophie Stanton as the paper’s women’s editor, and Pearl Chanda as Stephanie Rahn, the first ‘Page 3’ girl.

Newspapers mark a generational divide – the young really don’t read them. Graham’s skill and research bridge the age gap. I wondered if we needed a scene taking us through the printing process (akin to his excellent précis of parliamentary procedure in This House) but, yes, of course we do! With a touch of nostalgia, reflecting several characters’ romantic notions of Fleet Street, an arcane world of machismo and lots of cigarette smoke is opened. Hindsight raises smiles and big questions about media manipulation.

The result of Graham’s fun groundwork is a delicious surprise – a depiction of Murdoch that shows intelligence and courage. With a little retrofitting, Murdoch is cast as a business disruptor and credited with the idea of user-generated content. Neither role is that convincing but the ideas intrigue. Murdoch’s drive, so perfectly embodied in Carvel’s performance, comes from his wish to challenge and change – recasting an often-demonised figure as a rebel with a cause.

Until 5 August 2017

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Marc Brenner

“Medea” at the Almeida Theatre

We all know Medea’s biography – a sorceress who kills her kids when her husband leaves her – but it might help also to know more about the writer of the Almeida’s new version, Rachel Cusk. The prize-winning author of controversial novels about motherhood and marital breakdown has created a fiercely modern adaptation – the most radical of the theatre’s acclaimed Greek season.

Euripides’ play is a starting point (an altered conclusion tells us that much), inviting us to examine the topic of women and injustice. Cusk’s Medea is a writer, a magician with words, whose talent provides her chance for revenge. But the odds are against our heroine, as made clear by her former husband Jason (Justin Salinger) and Andy de la Tour as Creon, father of the younger woman she’s been deserted for.

Other women don’t help either. Amanda Boxer plays her mother, full of insulting criticism, while Michele Austin, as Medea’s cleaner, is relentlessly negative. The chorus consists of yummy mummies, obsessed with their husbands’ careers and trivial gossip. It’s close to the bone in Islington, an easy target, and I didn’t find them all that convincing. It can’t be that bad at the school gates, can it?

The arrival of a messenger from the gods is incongruous. Presented as both male and female, it’s an idea not even the excellent Charlotte Randle in the role can make effective, and a stumble in Rupert Goold’s sure-footed direction. But at least the messenger provides a welcome break by speaking in verse. Cusk’s theatrical dialogue is unusual. There are few conversations here: Medea talks to her friend Aegeus (Richard Cant) striking a deal over revenge, but she confronts Jason over the phone, while others just lecture her and the chorus’ conversations are deliberately one sided. The play has people pontificating rather than communicating and, at times, is tiring.

Kate Fleetwood in the title role is really the highlight of the show. Her Medea is truly scary – when she picks up a knife, the air crackles – but she is even better when controlling that tension. Forcefully intelligent, which adds credibility, her revenge will be… different. Best of all is Fleetwood’s ability to convey the physical pain of the character, clutching her stomach and clenching her hands. At its most effective, this is a close-up portrayal of rejection, masterfully conveyed.

Until 14 November 2015

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Paul Thompson

“The Merchant of Venice” at the Almeida Theatre

Rupert Goold’s production of The Merchant of Venice is an eye-catching and entertaining take on Shakespeare’s play. Moving the action from Venice to Vegas, complete with show girls and slot machines, is in keeping with this energetic director’s past work. Since both cities focus on money, more specifically greed, the relocation isn’t crazy, and the parallel between gambling and the risks the merchant Antonio takes really works. So Las Vegas adds fun. Unfortunately, this means some forced interpretations of the text, particularly in the recollections of the servant Lancelet, played by a very game Jamie Beamish transformed into an Elvis impersonator. It’s definitely something you’ll either love or hate.

On firmer ground, Goold stages the competition for Portia’s hand in marriage as a tacky quiz show – think Deal Or No Deal. Portia (Susannah Fielding) and her maid, a co-host, are airhead hillbillies, while suitors choose which box contains permission to marry, on TV. Live recording the action on stage feels like a frill, but the approach adds drama to repetitive scenes that can be dull and develops a theme of role-playing nicely. In the courtroom scene, when Portia comes disguised to defend Antonio, it’s thankfully not a case of Legally Blond, but real desperation she conveys. Portia’s insistence on the law becomes vicious, in keeping with a strain of shock tactics that make the scene gripping.

Ian McDiarmid as Shylock

So here’s the real surprise of the evening. This Merchant of Venice boasts Ian McDiarmid, making a welcome return to the Almeida and never to be missed on stage. Also, the excellent Scott Handy does a superb job as Antonio, the still centre of this often stormy show. But it’s Fielding and the role of Portia that really intrigues. The play’s anti-Semitism is clear and bravely dealt with, yet Goold seems more concerned with its misogyny. The final scene, a happy reunion at Belmont, often a cozy rounding up of the play, has a suggestion of violence towards the young brides that leaves an uneasy feeling. As Portia dons the blonde wig she wore on television, clearly destined to an inferior role in her new marriage, it appears she has lost her bet.

Until 14 February 2015

www.almeida.co.uk

Photos by Ellie Kurttz

“Charles III” at Wyndham’s Theatre

Mike Bartlett’s biggest hit to date, Charles III, has made a much-deserved transfer to the West End after rave reviews at the Almeida. Billed as a ‘future history play’, Bartlett imagines Prince Charles ascending to the throne and a constitutional crisis that arises when he refuses to sign a bill privileging privacy over the freedom of the press.

As well as being topical and very funny, the ideas are so outlandish – especially the presence of Princess Diana’s ghost – that it might all have turned out a bit silly. But it works. Royally. With a set of buzzing performances headed by a superb Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role, all the actors manage a fine balance between impersonation and a deeper intent. There are laughs at first, but these are well-developed roles and the serious subject matter is fascinating. Director Rupert Goold is uncharacteristically restrained; he knows the play speaks for itself.

Bartlett takes on the Shakespearean mantle with courage and panache. The play is written in verse, a demanding choice that adds humour and holds the attention. References to Shakespeare’s plays are light; it’s not so much the form and language that Bartlett borrows from the Bard as those ambitious themes of responsibility, family and identity – all of which are dealt with so intelligently that the royal soap opera is left far behind.

Not that the house of Windsor doesn’t make great raw material. The drama of youth vs experience, so ably depicted by Princes Harry and William (two sides of Shakespeare’s Hal?), is embraced by actors Richard Goulding and Oliver Chris. Imagining future events in such a fashion makes the heritage of Shakespeare’s history plays a kind of prism, creating layers of speculation. Bartlett handles the possibilities with wit, ensuring that Charles III  is both entertaining and unpredictable, while raising big questions and creating real pathos.

Until 31 January 2015

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 23 September 2014 for The London Magazine

“Earthquakes in London” at the National Theatre

Of the several excellent productions this summer from the Headlong Theatre Company, none has created quite the buzz of Earthquakes in London at the National Theatre’s Cottesloe auditorium.

Headlong’s star director Rupert Goold takes charge. While Broadway gave his production of Enron a drubbing, London loves Goold – and rightly so. A director of great style, his bag of theatrical tricks belies a precise hand adept at delivering unforgettable shows. Goold brings all his invention and courage to Earthquakes in London. He has to – Mike Bartlett’s play could easily have seemed unstageable.

Creating a time-travelling story of environmental apocalypse, Bartlett flirts with the past and future, but his play is really about the present – a condemning vision of our apathy and arrogance. Unashamedly political, if occasionally obtuse, the passion displayed is admirable. Akin to the National’s production of Rattigan’s After the Dance, the question that frustrates and angers is how society can carry on the party in the face of catastrophe.

Bartlett’s uncanny gift for characterisation shows his skill as a writer. While the wry observations on modern life are sometimes predictable, they can seldom be argued with and if the scope of his ambition doesn’t always pay off, his emotional insight creates a recognisable world of believable people.

Lia Williams is brilliant as Sarah, a newly appointed Lib Dem minister struggling with the conflict between her ideals and power. Lia has brought up her sisters: Jasmine (Jessica Raine) has ended up as a “natural disaster”, angry as only a post baby boomer can be, while heavily pregnant Freya (Anna Madeley) is given a haunting depiction that matches this harrowing role.

A massive cast live their lives around these women. Even their husbands, both men in crisis and played wonderfully by Tom Goodman-Hill and Geoffrey Streatfield fail to connect with them. Their father Robert (Bill Patterson) is a prophet whose vision of the future removes him from his family and provides this bleak play’s most exigent moments. Always surprising, Earthquakes in London is an epic with the most unusual hero as Bryony Hannah excels in two roles that show her enviable versatility.

But the stars of the show are designer Miriam Buether and the technical team at the National Theatre. Transforming the Cottesloe to an unprecedented extent makes the night exciting from the start. Performing amongst the crowd and in two pillbox stages at either end allows the breakneck speed required. It provides memorable tableaux and builds up connections that add further to an already rich work. The evening is often overwhelming, but it is never confusing. This is compulsive viewing that will run amok in the mind for a long time to come.

Until 22 September 2010

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 5 August 2010 for The London Magazine